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Labor stops Fast Track in it's tracks

By Fred Gaboury, in People's Weekly World, 3 October 1998

WASHINGTON - The labor movement scored a decisive victory on Sept. 25 when the House of Representatives set back a Republican election maneuver and defeated "Fast Track" legislation by a 243-180 margin.

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney accused the Republican leadership of Congress with attempting to take advantage of a "time of intense national distraction" to do under cover "what couldn't be done in the sunshine.

"This is not about Fast Track," Sweeney continued, "it's about election year politics. We don't need game-playing with Newt Gingrich who is trying to top months of inaction with days of confusion."

Earlier Sweeney had sent a letter to Congress in which he accused Republican leaders of scheduling the Fast Track vote "for the primary reason of creating political chaos so close to the mid-term elections."

Friday's vote marked the second defeat in less than a year of legislation giving the president authority to negotiate trade deals that Congress could approve or reject, but not change.

House action came one day after nearly 2,000 members of the Steelworkers union (USWA) rallied on the steps of the Capitol Building demanding that Congress defeat Republican efforts to force the measure through Congress before adjournment on Oct. 9.

"Fast Track is another NAFTA, a failed trade agreement that is decreasing the standard of living and taking away American jobs," said George Becker, USWA president, his words lost as demonstrators waved signs, raised fists and chanted, "No more NAFTAs!'

Becker called Fast Track an "inherently unfair and anti- democratic process that is fatally flawed. This fight is a class struggle between Wall Street and Main Street," he added.

Jackie Sebans makes Bic pens in Milford, Conn. and was one of the 15 members of USWA Local 134 who had come to Washington. "I came because we have to stop them from taking away our jobs. It's not just for us," she said. "It's for our children - they are going to need jobs, too."

Betty Allen was holding a sign reading, "North America's Future Traded Away." One of the 39 members of Local 1753 in Buffalo, N.Y., Allen summed up her reason for coming to Washington in five words: "We gotta stop Fast Track," she said.

George Edwards, an executive board member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, told the World that Fast Track was a cover for the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI).

"MAI is a constitution for the New World Order that will put the large transnational corporations in charge of the world's resources. They've been meeting in secret in a basement room in Paris working out its details and they will need Fast Track in order to get it through Congress. That's what this vote is all about."

Ken Platfoot, like most other rank and file steelworkers the World interviewed, had given up a day's pay to attend the demonstration. And he, too, characterized the Fast Track debate "election year politics. Here we're fighting over fast track and an $80 billion tax cut for the rich when we should be talking about jobs, health care and Social Security."

Several members of the House of Representatives joined Becker and Sweeney in attacking Fast Track and exposing the damage NAFTA has done.

Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) laid the challenge clearly on the line when he asked people to remember that, because of NAFTA, 72 people lose their jobs every day. "Remember that when you go home this evening," he urged.

Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) called for action to bring jobs back to the United States. "We need to help poor people of the world get higher standards, not watch ours go down." Sanders called Fast Track and NAFTA a "race to the bottom."

Rep. Ron Klink (D-Pa.) said that 13 counties in western Pennsylvania had lost more than 150,000 jobs in the last 20 years. Klink lampooned those who had claimed that NAFTA would result in a gain of high-tech jobs. "What we've gotten, instead, is a $31 billion trade deficit with Canada and Mexico."

Rep. Jack Quinn, the only Republican to address the demonstration, said he had not gone to Mexico so he could not comment on conditions there. "But all I had to do was go to Buffalo to see the effects."

Democratic Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) ticked off what he called the "grim harvest of NAFTA:" its effect on family farmers, on child labor and an increase in drug trafficking.

A measure similar to Fast Track was withdrawn from House consideration last November when a head count showed that it lacked the votes for passage. This time 71 Republicans joined 171 Democrats and one Independent in voting against the measure while 29 Democrats joined 151 Republicans in support.

President Clinton has always supported Fast Track and was an ardent supporter of NAFTA. Earlier this year he expressed the hope that Fast Track would clear Congress. He later changed his mind. This, and the continued leadership of unions like the Steelworkers, were factors in holding a number of conservative Democrats in line when the vote was taken last week.

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